My little rant about AMI

Please note, the following are my personal opinions and do not reflect those of any employer, past or present.

So today it was revealed that AMI still has no reinsurance cover available to them effective July 1st (New Zealand Herald). This means their insurance is invalid. The stupidity of this situation is that out government has enabled them to survive when their business model is invalid. Instead of the government allowing them to fail, and go away, while ensuring their clients were looked after; they instead propped them up and left them running. To qualify this, I aqm not in any way suggesting that AMI’s clients should have been left stranded – far from it – I am instead suggesting that the government should have let AMI go. The government has ended up in the insurance business by default, without it being managed best (in my opinion). AMI’s existing [inadequate] reinsurance and reserves could still have been used to restore the affected clients (they were still liable for losses at the time), with the government’s top-up assisting. Ongoing insurance should have then be dealt with by a “new” government insurer, possibly in conjunction with having clients move across to other existing insurers whenever possible. The other insurers had just perfectly demonstrated that they were acting as prudent insurers.

AMI spent years doing a dis-service to the insurance industry by rating and charging their premiums in a manner contrary to insurance best practice. They used their lower premiums to denigrate other providers as “money-grabbing”; yet when push came to shove, it was these money-grabbers who actually had the money available to look after their clients. These other providers also had proper reinsurance in place to be able to maintain an even keel (albeit on a slightly stormy sea) throughout the repeated earthquakes in the Christchurch region. The management of AMI have demonstrated that they were unable, or unwilling (which is worse: ignorance through stupidity, or ignorance through stubbornness?), to prudently and appropriately within the insurance industry, yet are now still being tasked with doing so (and with tax-payers money additionally!).

At this point we are stuck with a dead goose, but moving forward something needs to be done. A first step would be to make regulations around prudent insurance much tighter and adherence much more visible. This should not actually cause any problems for the remaining insurers in New Zealand, as they were already (of their own volition) adhering to a higher set of standards themselves. Regulations as to required reinsurance cover need to take into account where an insurers risk is located (80% of AMI’s business was in the Christchurch region, yet they based their reinsurance needs on an event in Wellington – coincidentally, this was cheaper….). This will work well hand-in-hand with the Financial Advisers Act 2008 and its enforcement of qualifications and liability for the advice given. As an insurance professional at the time of the Acts introduction, and during its initial roll-out, I had often been frustrated by the non-accountability of people giving advice. Often they would make erroneous, or outright lying, statements about my products or company which I was unable to refute due to standards imposed internally at my company (ie, we were not allowed to comment on other organisations directly, even when we knew the advisor had told the client an untruth about what their company provided in order to get the sale). Organisations and individuals who are performing well and in a prudent manner have absolutely nothing to worry about or to hide, but at the very least if they do make dangerous assumption (as AMI consistently did) it will be caught and nipped in the bud early.

I guess my point is, the New Zealand government bought into a dying horse and not only hasn’t managed to turn it into a cart horse, but is about to have to send it to the glue factory. Much better to have let the healthy cart horses bear a little extra load than to have kept flogging the dead one.



My #FoursquareDetox

So, I decided a couple of weeks ago that I needed a bit of a review of self. Other than needing to get fitter and lose some weight, I realised that I was a bit too tied to some aspects of my social media-ised life. And my competitive streak didn’t help either. For this reason, I decided that it would be good for me to go on a #FoursquareDetox. What this means is that I have not checked-in with Foursquare since then (currently 12 days, as of the writing of this post). The funny part is, I was inspired/motivated/pushed to it by what I realised was over-use since I got my iPhone. This was highlighted to me when I spent a weekend messing with the v1 API for Foursquare, and checked in around the United States, parts of London, and even the Arctic Circle and the Pyramids. I’d gotten a bit too tied to having the most points amongst my connections, and grasping desperately to my mayorships (one I found was mine still as long as I checked in before 7:15am each day – that way I beat my opponent to the daily arrival and maintained my tenuous grip on it [very sad!!]).

Since the start of this #FoursquareDetox, I have noted it daily on Twitter (hashtag #FoursquareDetox) and I’ve noticed that this is pretty much the only time I think of it. I’ve even managed to already train myself to not grab for my iPhone as soon as I get somewhere. Benefits abound also, as my fiancee doesn’t need to roll her eyes at me constantly as I check-in to yet another location, and struggle to keep a tentative hold on my points lead (ah, yes, just another intangible collection of ‘0’s and ‘1’s for us to base our sense of worth on).

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Foursquare (in fact, I will resume check-ins again soon) however I have gained a new perspective on my level of commitment to the app. Interesting check-ins that actually mean something are still golden, but needing to have 1000 check-ins to my house or office is just a little on the need-to-be-committed side of the spectrum. I would say that this is also tempered by my residing in New Zealand, where there has been less of a communal/collective uptake of the game than places such as New York (where it was invented for, and is stil targetted at) or San Francisco (which is another thriving tech hub). Additionally, my detox is nothing to do with privacy concerns – where I check-in is generally public knowledge, and is information that 15 seconds on Google which acquire or be able to extrapolate (eg I spent 5 days at work this week; I was at home 7 nights this week; etc). Honestly, it pretty much came down to valuing my time, and wanting to be a little more productive.

Action confirmation with JavaScript

Just a simple little trick for confirming with a user before they undertake an action on your web page. Sometimes you need to confirm things. You know, does the user of your site really want to delete that file FOREVER, or not. You can do it the hard way with a catch page to confirm, but the easier way is to use JavaScript.

Just like this:

<a href="irrevocable-action.php?doitnow=yes" onclick="return confirm('Are you really, really, really sure you want to do this?')">Do It!!</a>

When the user clicks the link, they will hit a pop up box, displaying the confirmation message and two buttons. If they click yes the link is followed and the action completed, otherwise they stay on the page and nothing happens.

Convert your website or web app to iOS app

I’ve been looking at web apps for iOS last weekend, as I was helping a friend with possibly porting his work as a native app. The solution provided by Apple is rather elegant, and very minimal in terms of work required. If your web app is HTML5 and CSS3 compliant, you’re good to go with about 15 minutes work. You’re able to have a web app run from the home screen of the iOS device, and appear to be native. The only flaw at this stage is that JavaScript is a bit laggy at times; this is primarily due to the fact that Apple has upgraded the JavaScript engine for Mobile Safari to the Nitro engine, while apps that run outside of Mobile Safari have not received access to the faster engine (read an unbiased explanation here). Anyways, what to do.

First, we need to hide the Safari components. We do this by adding the following inside the <head> tag of your normal web page/s:

<meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-capable" content="yes" />

Next, we need to hide the Status Bar. Again, by adding a single line to the <head> tag of your normal web page/s:

<meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style" content="black" />

There are three options for colors you can use here:

  • default – the status bar appears normal
  • black – the status bar has a black background
  • black-translucent – the status bar is black and translucent

If set to default or black, the web content is displayed below the status bar.
If set to black-translucent, the web content is displayed on the entire screen, partially obscured by the status bar.
The default value is default.

Now, the icon for your app. Presumably, you will want to use the same image as for your favicon, so at least you have the artwork ready to go. It just needs a little tweaking, and we’re away. You’ll need an icon which measures 57×57. You have two options for this, apple-touch-icon and apple-touch-icon-precomposed, depending on how you want Apple to handle your icon. The first option tells iOS that you’ve given it a generic icon to which it will add the standard app icon effects (rounded corners, drop shadow, and reflective shine); the second option tells iOS that you are giving it a fully kitted out icon with no need for adjustment. Bear in mind that the icon will always be placed on a black background, and be overlaid with a round-cornered “stencil”; so any transparent elements to the image will appear as black in the final displayed version.

Once this icon is created, place it in PNG format in the root document folder called apple-touch-icon.png or apple-touch-icon-precomposed.png. This specifies the icon for the entire website (every page on the website). Now you can link to it with a single line to the <head> tag of your normal web page/s:

<link rel="apple-touch-icon" href="/custom_icon.png"/>


<link rel="apple-touch-icon-precomposed" href="/custom_icon_precomposed.png"/>

For more information, check out Apple’s Web App tools, and also their discussion of meta-tags in iOS.

Angry Birds live action = AWESOME!

Don’t Worry Africa

don't worry Africa


Create a list box in Excel to ensure valid data entry

I’ve been pulling together a spreadsheet for tracking and planning the expenses of my upcoming wedding and honeymoon. Having not used Excel for a while, I was a bit rusty. Anyway, what I wanted to do was have a simple list-box in a cell from which I could select ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ (I know, not earth-shattering at all).

So, I had a quick Google and found a plethora of tutorials on how to add a combo-box or a list-box; but, they all got way too messy and created a box that sat somewhere, and referenced a list of values before returning the index of that value, and then you could use that index to read the original list of values and select the correct one in order to use it. Phew, that was tiring just typing it!! Not a happy camper, but I knew there must be a simple way to have it “just work”.

I got there in the end, after some muddling around, and here’s the solution using Data Validation (this just does ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, but it’s easy to add more values):

  1. Select all the cells you want to have this validation applied to
  2. Go to Data | Data Validation
  3. On the Settings tab, select List from the Allow drop-down list
  4. In the Source text box, enter the valid values for the data, separated by commas (eg: Yes, No) [note: don’t use quote marks]
  5. Select the In-cell Dropdown check box
  6. Click OK

When users move to one of the selected cells, Excel displays a drop-down arrow. Clicking the arrow reveals a list of valid options which users can select for that cell. If users attempt to type an entry that’s not on the list, Excel will display an error message.